SHEREEN NAN­JIANI

AND FI­NALLY … BACK IN FRONT OF THE TV CAM­ERAS AGAIN

The Herald Magazine - - FRONT PAGE -

SHEREEN NAN­JIANI ad­mits she was a bag of nerves be­fore go­ing back in front of the cam­eras for the first time in more than 10 years. It’s hard to be­lieve more than a decade has passed since the broad­caster, one of the best-known faces on Scot­tish tele­vi­sion in the 1990s – and one of the few Scots recog­nis­able by their first name alone – left STV.

Since step­ping off the daily news tread­mill she has forged a suc­cess­ful ca­reer in radio. But when the BBC came knock­ing with the chance to co-present a new weekly cur­rent af­fairs show, Time­line, Nan­jiani couldn’t re­sist re­turn­ing to the buzz of live TV.

“I must say I was pretty wor­ried about do­ing it again,” she laughs. “I re­mem­ber ask­ing my­self whether I could still do it – it’s been such a long time. I love do­ing radio be­cause it’s more in depth and you can be your­self, whereas TV is much more struc­tured. It has to be.

“On the first day of Time­line re­hearsals I was ner­vous. There’s a weight of ex­pec­ta­tion, of course, when peo­ple read the words ‘30 years of ex­pe­ri­ence’ on your CV… no pres­sure, then. If you screw it up you’ve got no ex­cuse.

“But when I sat down and looked at the au­tocue I in­stantly re­laxed and felt at home – it was so strange. And when we went on air for the first time I felt very calm. There might be hairy mo­ments ev­ery now and then – there al­ways is – but it felt good.”

Time­line is the perfect ve­hi­cle for Nan­jiani’s con­sid­er­able tal­ents. Co-hosted with po­lit­i­cal jour­nal­ist Glenn Camp­bell, it of­fers a fea­ture-led take on the week’s big sto­ries, giv­ing more fo­cus to the hu­man­in­ter­est lines daily news bulletins usu­ally don’t have the time to bring out. It’s slick, but not too slick, with Nan­jiani and Camp­bell dis­play­ing the sort of chem­istry which makes you won­der why no­body thought of putting them to­gether be­fore.

The show goes out at the same time as Eas­tEn­ders and the last half-hour of Chan­nel 4 News. But with the end of Scot­land 2016, the nightly news anal­y­sis pro­gramme widely viewed as a flop, there was def­i­nitely room in the BBC sched­ules for some­thing new. And this softer half-hour weekly for­mat, an­chored by two of the most experienced pre­sen­ters in town, seems to be grow­ing in both con­fi­dence and pop­u­lar­ity.

“We’re not try­ing to do what a news pro­gramme does, it’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent beast,” says Nan­jiani, who is 55. “At that time in the even­ing peo­ple are in a dif­fer­ent zone. I think they have a shorter at­ten­tion span – I know I cer­tainly do – but it doesn’t mean they can’t get into the meat of a story. It just means you have to do it in an

im­me­di­ately en­gag­ing way. We’re never go­ing to beat Eas­tEn­ders but I think it’s a good al­ter­na­tive if you’re look­ing for some­thing else.”

See­ing Pais­ley-born Nan­jiani back on tele­vi­sion re­minds you how much she’s been missed. As well as the pro­fes­sion­al­ism, there’s the trade­mark warmth in the de­liv­ery and charisma. Nan­jiani has all these in spades – though she chose to walk away from STV in 2006, af­ter 20 years, more of which later.

She laughs that it feels a bit strange to be an­swer­ing rather than ask­ing the ques­tions. We’re talk­ing in the light, spa­cious con­ver­sion in a quiet street in the west end of Glas­gow, filled with in­ter­est­ing art­work and comfy so­fas, that Nan­jiani shares with her part­ner of 20 years, me­dia ex­ec­u­tive Mark Smith, and Thomas, the black cat who me­an­ders be­tween us through­out, purring like a finely-tuned en­gine.

I should dis­close that I have a pro­fes­sional con­nec­tion to the pre­sen­ter, hav­ing ap­peared as a guest on her long-run­ning Satur­day morn­ing show on BBC Radio Scot­land.

Live radio and TV are far harder and fraught with po­ten­tial drama and dis­tress than you may think, but behind the scenes Nan­jiani is as warm as her on-screen per­son­al­ity sug­gests, en­gaged and hands-on, aware of all the de­tails, con­stantly rewrit­ing links and copy, keen to make guests feel as re­laxed as pos­si­ble.

Thirty years in broad­cast­ing isn’t to be sniffed at. Nan­jiani says it doesn’t seem like three decades, and in­deed she looks re­mark­ably un­changed from the woman I re­mem­ber in­spir­ing me to be­come a jour­nal­ist when I was a teenager.

Her big break came fol­low­ing grad­u­a­tion from Glas­gow Univer­sity, where she stud­ied phi­los­o­phy. While Nan­jiani was work­ing as a reporter at STV, pre­sen­ter Sheena McDon­ald phoned in sick one day. It was like some­thing out of the movies – but Scot­tish style.

“David Scott, the very gruff news boss at the time, called me in and said, ‘Right, you’re read­ing the news tonight.’ I was aghast and im­me­di­ately said I couldn’t pos­si­bly do it. This was the main news pro­gramme, the big one, with a mil­lion view­ers, be­fore the days when there were smaller bulletins you could cut your teeth on. I’d had no train­ing. He said, ‘Don’t worry, if you f*** it up you won’t be do­ing it again.’” In fact, Nan­jiani turned out to be a nat­u­ral. And, she dis­cov­ered, she loved the buzz of live TV. A few weeks later they named her along­side An­gus Simp­son as the joint an­chor of the main even­ing pro­gramme at a time be­fore dig­i­tal news plat­forms, when fam­i­lies sat down to watch the news to­gether.

Gus – now Lord – Macdonald was in charge of STV at the time and de­ter­mined to make it the best news pro­gramme of the day.

“It was such an ex­cit­ing time,” re­mem­bers

So many young Asian peo­ple were com­ing up to me and say­ing, ‘You’ve no idea what a dif­fer­ence it made see­ing your face on TV. It made me think I could do it too’

Nan­jiani. “We were com­pet­ing toe-to-toe with the BBC. They raised their game and so did we. I have to thank David Scott – he pushed me into it and I prob­a­bly wouldn’t have gone for it my­self. It was a bap­tism of fire – I still hadn’t had any train­ing when I started do­ing the job for real – but I sur­prised my­self how much I en­joyed it.”

And fa­mously, in­escapably, Nan­jiani was Scot­land’s first-ever Asian news­reader at a time when Scot­land was less cos­mopoli­tan and out­ward-look­ing than it is now. How did the young jour­nal­ist, the daugh­ter of a

Pak­istani eye doc­tor and an English nurse, feel about be­ing pre­sented in this way? “I didn’t know they were go­ing to pitch it that way and I wasn’t happy about it,” she ex­plains. “The first I knew was when the press re­lease went out about me be­ing the first Asian news­reader. I re­mem­ber think­ing, ‘Is that what you’re see­ing?’ I was quite up­set. I didn’t say any­thing be­cause I was young and didn’t have the con­fi­dence but I won­dered if that was why I got the job.

“I thought it reeked of to­kenism. I ac­tu­ally be­lieve I did get the job on my own mer­its, but I thought it was a bit cyn­i­cal of them to present me in that way. I spent much of my ca­reer rail­ing against it, not want­ing that tag to fol­low me around. And, of course, I was only half-Asian.”

Nan­jiani says her feel­ings on the mat­ter changed around 10 years ago when she re­alised that, like it or not, she had been a role model for a whole gen­er­a­tion of Asian Scots. “So many young Asian peo­ple were com­ing up to me and say­ing, ‘You’ve no idea what a dif­fer­ence it made see­ing your face on TV. It made me think I could do it too.’ Hardeep Singh Kohli [the Glaswe­gian broad­caster and Sun­day Her­ald colum­nist] came up to me at an event – we’d never met be­fore – and said, ‘I just want to shake your hand and say thank you. It meant so much see­ing you on screen.’ I’d never thought of it that way and it made me re­alise that I shouldn’t deny it, I should cel­e­brate it a bit more.”

But she ad­mits dis­may and dis­ap­point­ment that more Asian Scots are not in prom­i­nent po­si­tions in the me­dia. “I was the first Asian news­reader in Scot­land, and didn’t ex­pect 30 years later to be the last. I don’t think it’s be­cause of racism, but the me­dia hasn’t done enough to en­gage with black and mi­nor­ity eth­nic com­mu­ni­ties, or in­deed other mi­nori­ties.

“I was at the Scot­tish launch of the BBC’s di­ver­sity strat­egy and it is some­thing they are tak­ing very se­ri­ously now. I think they get it now. But you have to be more ac­tive. In jour­nal­ism – es­pe­cially the press – it is strik­ing that there are still very few eth­nic names.”

In her years at STV, Nan­jiani be­came the sta­tion’s flag­ship pre­sen­ter, lead­ing cov­er­age of the sto­ries that have shaped Scot­land over the last 30 years, in­clud­ing Locker­bie, Dun­blane and the set­ting up of the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment. She also re­ported from Ro­ma­nia af­ter the fall of the Com­mu­nist regime of Ni­co­lae Ceaus­escu, vis­it­ing the or­phan­ages that so shocked the world, re­turn­ing on var­i­ous oc­ca­sions with the Scot­tish char­i­ties who helped give new lives to the chil­dren.

She pre­sented from South Africa af­ter the elec­tion of Nel­son Man­dela and Peshawar, Pak­istan, af­ter the ter­ror at­tacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001. “I was so lucky to get a taste of that,” Nan­jiani says, “and ev­ery time

Young Scots these days seem so much more con­fi­dent and hap­pier in their own skin than we did when we were young

an op­por­tu­nity arose I would jump at it. I was al­ways keen to look out­ward.

“But af­ter 20 years it was be­gin­ning to feel like Ground­hog Day and I just wasn’t en­joy­ing it so much.”

I ask whether she was ever tempted to move to Lon­don and fol­low in the foot­steps of fel­low Scots such as Selina Scott, Kirsty Wark and Lor­raine Kelly. You can’t help but think she could have be­come the most suc­cess­ful name on this list.

“It’s just the way it worked out,” she muses with­out an iota of bit­ter­ness. “I’ve al­ways been very com­fort­able in Scot­land. I sup­pose I was al­ways com­fort­able with the Scot­tish peo­ple, too. There can be a per­ceived pres­sure that you can’t come back at a high level un­less you’ve been to Lon­don, but I did all right in Scot­land. I like my life here. Maybe I could and should have spread my wings, but I have no re­grets.

“There’s much more of a con­fi­dence in the Scot­tish cre­ative spheres now. There isn’t that at­ti­tude that you have go to Lon­don. Young Scot­tish peo­ple these days seem so much more con­fi­dent and hap­pier in their own skin than we did when we were young – I envy them.”

A few weeks ago, Nan­jiani’s mother, Enid,

died sud­denly. Her fa­ther Max is in his eight­ies and dis­abled, and Nan­jiani, who has one brother, a vet, has been there to help him ad­just to his new life and cir­cum­stances.

The fam­ily of four were al­ways a close unit, she says, par­tic­u­larly so be­cause her fa­ther’s fam­ily were thou­sands of miles away in Pak­istan, and much of her mother’s had moved to South Africa, so there were no aunts, un­cles or cousins around while she was grow­ing up in Pais­ley.

Out of the blue a cou­ple of years ago, how­ever, she had the chance to meet an­other fa­mous Nan­jiani – Ku­mail, a suc­cess­ful stand-up co­me­dian in the US, best known as one of the stars of the Em­mynom­i­nated HBO show Sil­i­con Val­ley. And to her sur­prise, he knew all about her.

“I was read­ing an ar­ti­cle in the pa­per about the best co­me­di­ans to see at the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val and the name Ku­mail Nan­jiani leapt off the page. That’s a fam­ily name, so I knew we would have to be re­lated. It turns out he’s my sec­ond cousin.

“I went to Ed­in­burgh to meet him and it was amaz­ing how much he looked like my dad as a young man – I couldn’t be­lieve it. And he was a lovely guy. It was re­ally funny be­cause he told me that when he was grow­ing up the fam­ily were al­ways telling him about Shereen ‘the big TV star in Scot­land’.

“That made me laugh be­cause if any­thing I’ve al­ways suf­fered from im­poster syn­drome – I just haven’t been found out yet.”

For many Scots, of course, it is Shereen who is the real deal. And that’s why it’s great to have her back on the box. Time­line is on BBC Two on Thurs­day at 7.30pm

Shereen Nan­jiani co-hosts BBC Two’s Time­line with Glenn Camp­bell. ‘We’re not try­ing to do what a news pro­gramme does,’ she says. ‘It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent beast’

Clockwise from top: Nan­jiani and Camp­bell on the Time­line set; with her STV col­league Viv Lums­den in 1992; and re­port­ing for Scot­land To­day from Pak­istan af­ter the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror at­tacks

Nan­jiani with Thomas the cat, one of two males she shares her home with, the other be­ing me­dia ex­ec­u­tive Mark Smith

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